A Clash of Cultures and Its Consequences

Today’s New York Times describes how Toyota has been able to not make any recalls  in its home-base, Japan.  In both Japan and the United States, big corporations unfortunately have a major say in policy-making such as the (non-)establishment of regulations and how they are (not) enforced.  Think Toyota in Japan and the banks in the US.   Old-timers in the US may recall how the Big Three of the past became over time the Detroit Three, by advocating reduced investments in public transportation infrastructure back in their golden age during the 50s and 60s, and then adopting ill-advised market-growth techniques that came to be collectively referred to as “planned obsolescence”.

The lack of accountability to customers is something that may define how this whole episode of concerns over recalls plays out.  We need to watch how extensively Toyota responds (or not) to the request from the House Energy and House Committee for test documents and interviews with technical experts.   If Toyota is able to bring to bear political pressure not to bring to light its internal documents, that would be a pity.  The harsh spotlight shining on Toyota, which some attribute to “typical” hype from the press, has nevertheless put immense pressure not just on Toyota but also on other carmakers, who have rushed to announce recalls that may not have happened otherwise.  A good outcome, hopefully, will comprise of

  • An added public awareness of both the many benefits and risks of electronics in safety-critical systems,
  • An increased concern over consumer safety among the carmakers, who will otherwise pay for it with reduced market share and diminished reputation, and
  • More industry standards and products that favor the use of independent fail-over mechanisms.

Cars for the people!

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